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Emperor Yao



A defining ideal cherished by Chinese Confucian scholars was to assist a ruler in governing a country while modeling him after ancient sage-rulers: Yao and Shun. Though probably more of a legend, Yao and Shun (sometimes plus Yu) have been collectively referred to as model sage-rulers in Chinese cultural context, who are morally perfect, diligent, benevolent, and with a good track record in administration.

According to legend, Yao (c. 2356-2255 BC) was born to Emperor Di-Ku, another legendary sage-emperor. He was enfeoffed to Tao and Tang, hence one of his alternative name “Tao-Tang”. He succeeded to the “throne” (probably the position of leader-chief of a tribe alliance) at the age of 18.


Legend has it that Emperor Yao ordered the design of the Chinese traditional calendar, which was to prove an effective reference for agricultural production. This, at least, implies that a big stride forward in agriculture was achieved in those times.

 

Emperor Yao, Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors

Emperor Yao visiting talented and virtuous men, trying to persuade them to join his administration.


“Emperor” Yao filled his administration with talented and virtuous ministers, and would still go on seeking more for fear of neglecting them. A most repeated story was Yao’s visit to Xu You, a virtuous recluse who did not aspire to fame and fortune. Yao would offer to give up the throne to Xu You upon the belief that the latter would perform better. Xu You, however, promptly declined the offer, and considered this invitation so “dirty” that he washed his ears in the river.

 

Emperor Yao, Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors

A carved mural illustrating the "high-profile" passing of throne from Emperor Yao to Emperor Shun, a much lauded political story.


Yao’s talent-seeking efforts paid off eventually. His senior ministers recommended Shun to him. After a fairly comprehensive examination, Yao was convinced of Shun’s ability as well as moral character, and abdicated in favour of him. Therewith, Yao set a good example of passing the throne to a virtuous and talented man rather than his own offspring. (In reality, of course, it was probably nothing unusual for a tribe in the primitive times to elect a new, capable leader rather than to have the position passed to the offspring of the retired or deceased old leader. )

 



 

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